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Customer reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

on 6 September 2015
Far be it for me to disagree with such Amazonian heavyweights as Stewart Crowe and Ralph Moore, but my own listening experience with this set differed so markedly from their own, that I felt it was my duty to share it with you all, even if in doing so I do risk sounding somewhat humbug with this most Christmassy of operas !

For indeed this set does strive to enter the magical childlike world of Humperdinck's "children's opera", using real children to play the parts of the children in the opera. I have to say that as such, they sing accurately, taking the parts of Hansel and Gretel, as well as the Dew Fairy and Sandman; however, that's about as good as it gets. The two principals just about have pleasant voices and there is a sense of innocence with the Evening Prayer which is touching; elsewhere though there is a seriousness of purpose that seems at odds with the sparkle of the drama - to my ears, the main pair are applying themselves to a difficult task with all the serious dedication that kids are good at, and therein lies the problem; there's no fun, no sense of wonder that many of the adult singers on other sets manage to evoke. And I'm afraid there really isn't anything good to say about the two children singing The Sandman and Dew Fairy; why anyone would want to listen to them after te Kanawa, Popp, Auger, Hendricks et al on other sets is totally beyond me. To his credit, Wallberg (an excellent conductor, IMO) doesn't make any concessions to them in his pacing of the work, although as early as in the Overture the seemingly close balance of the horns and trombones indicate that maybe he is using a smaller body of strings in his Gürzenich Orchestra of Köln, perhaps in acknowledgement of his smaller than usual voiced soloists. More controversy concerns the casting of a young Edda Moser as the Witch, more Queen of the Night than ancient contralto, but still very characterful - this daring casting did pay off. Likewise, Hermann Prey as the Father, is quite wonderful I thought, the best after Fischer-Dieskau (on Eichhorns' set on RCA). But to summarise my feelings on this set ? I gave it away !

Overall, I think this opera has been very lucky on record, even if none of the very many sets I have heard are absolutely perfect - however, like any of those magical sacks that have fallen off of Santa's Sledge stuffed full of goodies, there really is something for everyone. If it is a feast of fine singing you want, then I would say the Pritchard on Sony with Cotrubas, von Stade, Ludwig, Nimsgern, Söderström and te Kanawa's Sandman sounding as ethereal as one of the angels sent to guard the sleeping the children, just about nudges into top spot for me. For a sizzling sense of fun, then Eichhorn's on RCA is the one for you, with Christa Ludwig bringing the house down, this time as the witch. Want a Witch sung by a tenor though - then Schreier on the Suitner set is your man. Karajan's EMI set contains the best conducting and a magical performance to boot, even if a degree of tolerance is required with it's 1953 mono sound. If you see the work as quasi-Wagnerian, then either Solti and Runnicles should fit the bill, the latter enjoying the finest sonics of all the sets here as well. However, if pushed to recommend one, with modern (if not perfect !) sound, wise conducting and decent singing throughout, I would probably choose Sir Colin Davis's on Philips with the wonderful Dresden Staatskapelle. But if you do insist on children singing the main roles, then I suppose this 1974 EMI Elektrola is about as good as it's going to get. One star each for Prey's superb Father and Moser's interesting witch.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 July 2012
Yet another Hansel und Gretel set-surely this one can have few surprises?
Conducted by Heinz Wallberg, reliable Kapellmeister and fine musician , this 1974 recording made by Electrola is beautifully played by the Gürzenich Orchestra of Köln, and is in excellent sound, similar to that of the Eichorn but with less cavernous acoustics.
As far as I am aware, the set was never available in the UK other than as a specialist import. So are there any surprises?
The main one is that this version has the children sung-by children-Brigitte Lindner and Eugen Hug ! It goes further in having the fairies also sung by children (young persons?), and tops it off by having a young Edda Moser adding a Rosina Leckermaul to her Queen of the Night repertoire.
There is some claim to authenticity as Humperdinck did pioneer this work in a "singspiel" version for his own children and their friends, but when he finished and published the score, it was clear that the casting of children was not intended for a variety of obvious practical reasons.
The danger was that this could all have become precious and twee, but I'm delighted to advise that this is not the case, and it emerges as a charming version, light and airy on the ear, and very affecting on the senses.
This is not least because of the excellence of the cast.
The 2 young protagonists both have beautiful tone, excellent legato and charm in buckets-and they interpret very well. Wallberg undoubtedly keeps the textures lighter when supporting their contributions, but does not employ unusually fast tempi to assist their legato-they are so good they do not need it.
Passages like the Children's Prayer are incredibly moving.
Herman Prey matches Berry ad DF-D as Peter, Ilse Gramatski is a really superb Mother, and while the 2 children who sing the fairies are very fine, I think that was not really necessary as it does not add much, but that is a minor carp.
Edda Moser is NOT the usual casting for the Witch-this is almost invariably cast as a mezzo, or a dramatic soprano of a certain age who wants to have some fun, not one of the leading Mozart exponents with a superb coloratura talent. Moser's Rosina is a triumph-the variations of interpretation in this role never cease to surprise, and here we have Rosina as a cross between a cannibalistic Queen of the Night and a homicidal Zerbinetta, with trills and thrills a plenty-quite extraordinary!
She succeeds brilliantly in being scary and funny in equal measure, with less histrionic yelping I'm happy to report!
The set is worth it for her performance alone!
I suppose in the last analysis, I prefer the "grown-ups " version of this endlessly tuneful and touching work, with which I am somewhat obsessed, and my favourite is still the Cluytens, though that's a very personal choice and my dispassionate recommendation to newcomers remains the Runnicles-but happily, ALL the available recordings are excellent in different ways. Lovers of this work will want to hear this version though, and they will not be disappointed. There is a different sense about it-the plight of the children is more real in this recording of course, and it makes the work darker than the sheer exuberance I normally experience.
Well worth exploring, and I can find no reason not to award it 5 Stars!
Stewart Crowe.
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VINE VOICEon 3 May 2009
This recording of "Haensel und Gretel"--performed mostly by young singers--is simply delightful.

The young voices--especially those of the Sandman and the Dew fairy--lend an enchantment to the opera that one does not always discern when it is performed by adult singers. The boy and girl singing the title roles are charming, and they are ably supported by the adults, which include Hermann Prey as the father and Edda Moser as the Knusper Hexe.

A thoroughly magical musical experience!
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 7 April 2014
"Hänsel und Gretel" exercises a strange fascination over its devotees in that its apparent simplicity and naivety conceals a powerful myth with a grim core that, for all its undoubted charm, resonates strongly in an age where child abuse is all too common a theme. Its dénouement where all the kidnapped children return to life never fails to move me if it is done even halfway well – and here it is so touching. Furthermore, there are no longueurs in its 100 minutes of music and form its delightful pot-pourri overture onwards it proves an ingenious concoction of Wagnerian grandeur and folksy charm.

The latter is emphasised by a daring casting decision here to have real and very talented children sing not only the siblings but also the two fairies one of whom sings them to sleep and the other awakens them. This does away with the debate regarding whether adult voices sound too mature and knowing and eschews the risk of their becoming arch and precious in attempting to sound winsome. A further surprise is the allotting of the role of Rosina Lechermaul the witch to the premier coloratura lirico-drammatico soprano of the 70's, Edda Moser instead of the usual slightly superannuated, cackling mezzo. Both choices pay dividends: the children are highly musical, very convincing and lend credibility to moments such as when children's voices echo Hänsel when he calls into the darkening forest and somehow their voices return the opera to the fairy tale domain where it belongs. Nor do they never sound cutesy. Moser still squawks and cackles entertainingly but her prowess and flexibility mean that we also avoid any vocally embarrassingly or inadequate moments – an she is clearly having fun, so we do, too. One must forget that star singers like Kiri Te Kanawa have recorded the Sandman and revel in the artistic unity the casting confers upon the whole enterprise. Indeed, as I write I am not sure that I am not talking myself into declaring that this is my favourite recording of the many extant.

And indeed, there are a good many:- over a dozen and nearly all successful to some degree; the only lemon I know is the 1953 version stolidly conducted by Fritz Lehmann - and even that is redeemed by Rita Streich's Gretel. This is beautifully played by the Cologne forces; one has only to hear their opulent playing of the dream pantomime at the heart of the opera to be content. The parents sung by Prey and Gramatzky are warm and idiomatic without being the most characterful on record but more than adequate. The sound is excellent and the whole set a joy.
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